It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The movie is also smashingly entertaining on the story level. The Phantom, created in 1936 by Lee Falk, is said to be the first of the superheroes, and the movie is true to his origins. He doesn't have the absurd powers of Superman or the catlike grace of Batman, and when he lands on the hood of a speeding truck, the film doesn't do it with alight pounce, but with a heavy thud, as of muscle meeting metal.
Although he's known to those who fear him as “The Ghost Who Walks,” he isn't immortal; he's the 21st in a line of Phantoms, who trace their heritage back to the first Phantom's vow to fight evil and piracy. (How the Phantoms have found 20 brides willing to live in the Skull Cave is a question not answered in this film.) The film stars Billy Zane as the Phantom, a.k.a. mild-mannered Kit Walker. His fury is roused when an evil industrialist named Xander Drax (Treat Williams) schemes to bring together three priceless skulls that, when assembled, will give him power over mankind. Fighting against Drax's schemes is a heroic newspaper publisher (Bill Smitrovich), who dispatches his niece, Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), to the jungle in search of one of the skulls. Phantom fans of course know Diane eventually becomes Mrs. Phantom, but here they are meeting again for the first time after her college courtship with Kit that ended when he mysteriously disappeared.
The movie's plot is essentially a series of adventure sequences.
There's an aerial dogfight between a Pan American Clipper and two red biplanes. Two perilous crossings by truck over a disintegrating suspension bridge. A strangling by skeleton. A chase in which the Phantom and Diane successfully drop from a plane and land on the back of Hero, the white stallion, just before the plane crashes into a mountain.